LOT 016

1928 - 2021

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1960 and on verso signed, titled and dated
36 x 40 in, 91.4 x 101.6 cm

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD

Sold for: $91,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Acquired directly from the Artist by Mireille and Bernard Lagacé, 1960, Montreal

“Art and Acrobatics…Rita Letendre,” The Montrealer, January 1962
Gaston Roberge, Rita Letendre: Woman of Light, 1997, page 12

Galerie de l'école des beaux-arts (group exhibition), Montreal, 1960

“When I was a little girl of eleven, I used to daydream a lot, but I knew that I was only trying to escape from reality.” – Rita Letendre

The Québécoise-Abenaki painter Rita Letendre was introduced to Paul-Émile Borduas and the Automatists during her studies at the École des beaux-arts in Montreal. In an interview in The Montrealer in 1962, Letendre recounts how “Borduas, Mousseau and Marcelle Ferron were in full revolution at that time. They distributed pamphlets at the Beaux Arts [school] telling where their paintings could be seen.” Their expressive and intuitive approach to art was much more in tune with Letendre’s interest in creative exploration than the traditional methods taught at the école.

She continued, “We found their paintings exciting. Then we discovered our contemporaries. People with whom we would develop our talents. For me there was Ulysse Comtois, the sculptor, and Gilles Groulx, the filmmaker, among others. I was convinced that I was going to revolutionize the universe, and all my friends thought the same about themselves.”

Later, her works were shown alongside the Automatists in pivotal exhibitions such as La matière chante in 1954 and Espace 1955 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Since then, she has dedicated herself entirely to painting and to exploring the possibilities of abstraction. “Representation suddenly seemed to me like a crutch,” she said. “I had discovered that the soul of a painting was not in the object represented but in the way it transmitted a sort of internalized emotion.”

Letendre’s works from the early 1960s are highly indebted to the Automatists’ revolutionary and expressive approach to abstraction. They are spirited and intense, and Printemps is no exception. In this compelling oil on canvas, Letendre skilfully laid thick slabs of colour side by side all over the surface of the canvas with her palette knife, building a mosaic of textured swathes in black, olive, white, yellow, cerulean blue and tomato red. Her undeniably liberated use of the palette knife showcases her remarkable range and quality of gesture as she reveals the very materiality of her medium. As she drags and scrapes her knife through the pigments, touches of underlying colour appear in transparency. By juxtaposing masses of colour against black impastos, which creates a push and pull effect between foreground and background, Letendre has created a dynamic composition. The title of this piece is itself noteworthy: Printemps (Spring) evokes renewal, rebirth and awakening.

Also noteworthy is the fact that this piece was shown in the 1960 group show at the Galerie de l’École des beaux-arts in Montreal. Bernard and Mireille Lagacé acquired it directly from Letendre, whom they knew well, and it has remained in their collection ever since. Bernard and Mireille Lagacé are, respectively, an acclaimed organist and harpsichordist and amongst the most prominent interpreters of baroque music of their generation. Lifestream, by Paterson Ewen, lot 9 in this sale, was also acquired by the Lagacés directly from the artist in 1960.

This masterpiece by Letendre is making its auction debut.

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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